Latest News

Floor Actions Demanding Dream Act Vote Disrupt House’s Legislative Day

Commondreams - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 13:13
Luis V. Gutierrez

On Wednesday, three Members of Congress took the unusual step of calling for the House’s adjournment in order to focus attention on the need for the DREAM Act to protect immigrants.  In succession, after delivering one-minute speeches in accordance with House procedures, Reps.

Categories: Latest News

Myanmar: Military’s Mass Grave Admission Exposes Extrajudicial Executions of Rohingya

Commondreams - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:57
Amnesty International

Following today’s admission by Myanmar’s military that security forces and villagers summarily killed 10 captured Rohingya people and buried them in a mass grave outside Inn Din, a village in Maungdaw, Rakhine State, James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said:

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ACLU and Demos Present Arguments at Supreme Court in Ohio Voter Purge Case

Commondreams - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:51
ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union and Dēmos presented arguments today to the Supreme Court in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, a case focusing on Ohio’s practice of purging voters from its registration rolls. The groups argued that the Supplemental Process directly violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).

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Thursday: Following Votes on Legalizing Marijuana in NH and VT, New York State Legislators Hold Public Hearing on Regulating and Taxing Marijuana for Adult Use

Commondreams - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:45
Drug Policy Alliance

On January 11, 2018, the New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Codes, Health, and Alcohol and Drug Abuse will convene a

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Mayor de Blasio Announces Goal to Divest New York City from Fossil Fuels

Commondreams - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 11:58
Sierra Club

Today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to divest the city’s $189 billion pension fund from fossil fuels within the next five years, making New York City the first major US pension plan to do so. Momentum behind the push to defund the fossil fuel industry is growing in New York; last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the state’s retirement fund to divest from fossil fuels.   

Mayor de Blasio also ​announced that the city has filed a lawsuit against the five largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies over their contributions to climate change.

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Nurses Opposes Trump Administration Deportation Threats Against Salvadorans, Other Immigrants Living in the U.S.

Commondreams - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 11:52
National Nurses United

In the wake of the Trump Administration decision this week to end the temporary protected status for over 200,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S., National Nurses United said today that it opposes the administration’s threats of deportation of an expanding list of Mexican, Central American and Caribbean immigrants in the U.S.

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Norman Finkelstein on the Many Lies Perpetuated About Gaza

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00

Israel faces a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including over 500 children. For more, we speak with Norman Finkelstein, author of the new book Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. He is the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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As International Criminal Court Considers Probing Israel for War Crimes, US Moves to Defund UN Palestine Refugee Agency

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00

Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza and the ongoing expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Despite the threat, the Israeli defense minister announced on Tuesday Israel would approve the construction of hundreds of new settlement homes in the West Bank. This comes as Sweden criticized the Trump administration for threatening to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of annual aid to the UN's relief agency for Palestinian refugees. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi compared President Trump's threat to cut off aid money to blackmail. For more, we speak with author and scholar Norman Finkelstein. His new book is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. He is the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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A Federal Court Could Save Yellowstone's Grizzlies From the Trump Administration

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups are asking a federal court in Montana to throw out the Trump administration's decision to remove grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park from the endangered species list. They want the grizzlies protected from trophy hunters while federal wildlife officials complete a review of their decision to delist the bears.

A grizzly bear and cubs play in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, on June 3, 2017. (Photo: Wolverine 9 5)

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The Northern Cheyenne Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups are asking a federal court in Montana to throw out the Trump administration's decision to remove grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park from the endangered species list -- a move that has paved the way for trophy hunts of the iconic animals.

Delisting the Yellowstone bears opened the door for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to allow grizzly bear hunting on vast areas of land.

Grizzly bears in the lower 48 states are endangered and qualify for special federal protection. However, last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule that carved out the bear population in the Yellowstone region and removed it from the endangered species list. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Trump appointee who oversees the wildlife agency, personally announced the change in June 2017.

Delisting the Yellowstone bears opened the door for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming to allow grizzly bear hunting on vast areas of land outside of the national park system, and Wyoming officials are already making plans to propose grizzly bear hunts later this year.

"We're not anti-hunting, but we are certainly not excited about trophy hunting of grizzly bears in one of the last few places where they continue to exist," said Timothy Preso, an attorney with Earthjustice who filed the legal request, in an interview with Truthout.

"Nobody needs a grizzly bear in the freezer to get through the winter." -- Timothy Preso, Earthjustice

Preso said some hunters in the region hunt elk and other large game for food, but grizzly bears are likely to be hunted as trophies. Yellowstone grizzlies are much more valuable as icons that draw tourists to the region and as "ambassadors of wildness," as Preso put it, than as trophies in a big-game hunter's private collection.

"Nobody needs a grizzly bear in the freezer to get through the winter," Preso said.

A number of environmental groups and nine Native tribes sued Zinke and the Interior Department last year for removing the Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list, a designation that has helped protect their habitat from logging and oil and gas development. Zinke is aggressively working to lift restrictions on development and fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

US Fish and Wildlife is now reviewing its decision to delist the Yellowstone grizzlies and is asking for public comment in light of a recent court ruling that returned federal protections to wolves in the Great Lakes region. Officials have left the rule delisting the bears in effect while they reconsider it, allowing state game wardens to move ahead with hunting plans.

Preso said the move by US Fish and Wildlife to reconsider the decision without withdrawing it altogether is unusual. His coalition is asking a federal judge in Missoula to restore the endangered species protection to the Yellowstone grizzly bears while federal wildlife officials complete a review of their delisting decision, which they have promised to do by March 31.

Taking some Yellowstone grizzlies out of the gene pool could put the entire population at risk.

"The Yellowstone region's grizzlies deserve better than to be subjected to trophy hunting based on a half-baked government decision," Preso said in a statement.

The environmental coalition argues that US Fish and Wildlife's effort to review its own rulemaking is proof that the agency "did not complete its homework" before removing Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list. For example, conservationists say officials must research how delisting could impact the total population of endangered grizzly bears across the West.

Grizzly bears have made a comeback in the Yellowstone region, where the population has grown from 136 when the bears were originally listed as endangered in 1975 to about 690 today, according to the National Park Service. However, environmentalists warn that grizzlies across the rest of the lower 48 states have not done as well, and taking some Yellowstone grizzlies out of the gene pool could put the entire population at risk.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said grizzly bears occupy less than 5 percent of their former range in the lower 48 states, so they clearly have not recovered.

"Attempting to delist the Yellowstone bears and expose them to trophy hunting without considering grizzlies' poor status overall is simply ludicrous," Greenwald said in a statement.

Hunting is not allowed in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks, but it is allowed outside the park boundaries, where wildlife is managed by state agencies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Wyoming officials are currently considering public input on a management plan for bears that would potentially include hunting within federal limits, according to local reports.

As predator populations slowly recover from deforestation and loss of habitat caused by human development, their territory increasingly butts up against ours. In 2016, wildlife managers captured 39 grizzly bears in Wyoming to resolve "conflicts" with humans, according to a state report. These "conflicts" typically involved bears killing livestock, eating pet food or foraging in someone's garbage. Twenty-two of the captured bears were killed, often for having a history of "conflicts" with people and their property.

Categories: Latest News

"Victory for Democracy" as Court Rules Against North Carolina Gerrymandering

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00

Voters cast their ballots inside the Hawthorne Recreation Center near uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, on election day November 8, 2016. (Photo: LOGAN CYRUS / AFP / Getty Images)

In a ruling hailed as a major and historic "victory for democracy," a federal court on Tuesday deemed North Carolina's 2016 congressional map unconstitutional on the grounds that it was drawn to discriminate against Democratic voters -- marking the first time a federal court has struck down a redistricting plan for partisan gerrymandering.

"Every American deserves representation in Washington, but the gerrymandered map struck down by the court today robbed much of the state of a representative voice in the nation's capital," said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, one of the advocacy groups the legal challenge against North Carolina's Republican Party. "Partisan gerrymanders are quite simply undemocratic."

The three-judge panel's decision (pdf) on Tuesday may have been unique in its stand against extreme partisan redistricting, but it was not the first time North Carolina's Republican-drawn congressional map has been struck down for violating the constitutional rights of voters. As Prema Levy of Mother Jones points out, "the state's previous map was deemed illegal for being racially gerrymandered in 2016" -- years after the map allowed the GOP to take a vast majority of the state's House seats.

Following the 2016 ruling, North Carolina Republicans explicitly looked to structure the state's congressional map to give themselves a "partisan advantage" -- resulting in what the Brennan Center for Justice called "one of the worst partisan gerrymanders of the decade."

North Carolina voters have scored a big victory against one of the worst partisan gerrymanders of the decade. https://t.co/Xl3uhCRbBY

-- Brennan Center (@BrennanCenter) January 10, 2018

"I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is not against the law," Rep. David Lewis (R-N.C.), chairman of the state House's Redistricting Committee, declared during a 2016 meeting. "I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country."

The North Carolina district court's determination on Tuesday that extreme partisan gerrymandering is, in fact, unconstitutional -- violating the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and the Election Clause of Article I of the Constitution -- is likely to gain national significance in the coming months, as the Supreme Court is currently considering two similar partisan gerrymandering cases in Wisconsin and Maryland.

This decision is so thorough. It tells the story of how unfettered partisan gerrymandering hijacked democracy in North Carolina. The decision is long but worth the read. https://t.co/H0RfzOAdcw https://t.co/ZidOKzAwFa

-- Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) January 10, 2018

North Carolina Republicans are expected to appeal to the Supreme Court to put the ruling on hold until the other two cases are decided -- a delay that would allow the current map to remain in place through the 2018 midterm elections.

J. Michael Bitzer, professor of political science at Catawba College, told the New York Timesthat if Tuesday's ruling is upheld, it "gives hope to Democrats" looking to wrest control of the state's legislature from the GOP.

"I can imagine the Republicans being furious, but they have to see political reality, and it's not just in the next two weeks: It's come November," Bitzer concluded.

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The Labor Movement Is Fighting Back Against Trump's Efforts to Remove Immigrant Protections

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00

Congress has no choice but to act to preserve the temporary protected status of El Salvadorans and other immigrants, because somebody is going to pay the price for this administration's actions in upcoming elections, says Jaime Contreras, vice president of SEIU 32BJ. The labor movement will be putting the pressure on Congress.

A 6-year-old girl from El Salvador holds a placard during a rally around Trump Tower in support of immigrant workers on April 8, 2017, in New York. (Photo: KENA BETANCUR / AFP / Getty Images)

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now nearly a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 105th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Jaime Contreras, the vice president of SEIU 32BJ. Contreras discusses the Trump administration's latest attack on El Salvadoran immigrants with temporary protected status in the US and how the SEIU will fight back.

Sarah Jaffe: We are talking today about the Trump administration's latest attack on immigrants. To start off with, tell us a little bit about this latest revocation of temporary protected status (TPS). Who does this apply to? What is the justification the administration is giving for doing this?

Jaime Contreras: First of all, I think it is unfortunate that TPS for close to 200,000 Salvadoran legal workers in the country is going to end by September 2019. It is un-American. It is inhumane. The excuse the administration gave for doing this is, "Well, you know, there hasn't been an earthquake in El Salvador lately or a natural disaster and you no longer have a civil war," but the reality is ... I have been to El Salvador not too long ago; things for Salvadorans [are still bad], there is still dire poverty in El Salvador. There is gang violence in El Salvador.

Sending 200,000 workers who have done everything right by the law, paying their taxes, contributing to the economy, who have ... around another 200,000 US-born children. What is going to happen to those kids and these folks? It is really sending them back to misery, and some of them may even face death when they get back. That, to me, is not the right thing to do. I came here in 1988 during the civil war in El Salvador at the age of 13. My parents brought me here. I had no say in that decision. Since then, I have served in the United States military. I have become a US citizen. I own a house. I work every day. To me, it is offensive as a former military person that this administration has taken this stance with immigrants who are no different than me.

Can you explain a little bit more about what temporary protected status is for people who aren't familiar with this?

Temporary protected status is given to people who are already in the United States undocumented, fleeing some sort of a natural disaster, a civil war or conflict in their homeland. It is given to those people as a way to protect them to allow them to work legally in the United States, [and] live without fear of deportation. That is what temporary protected status is. It has been given to over 10 countries, including Nicaragua -- which was also eliminated, but it is a really small number of 2,500 people -- Honduras, Haiti, Sudan and a bunch of other countries who have turmoil in their land. So, those people have temporary protected status and all of those people are about to lose it. The largest recipient of TPS is really Salvadorans.

This administration already eliminated TPS for Haiti and Nicaragua and Sudan. Now this is the fourth country. This goes along with revoking DACA protections. The one thing this administration seems to be keeping its promises on, unfortunately, seems to be taking protections away from immigrants.

Yes. To me, this didn't come as a surprise. We all heard the rhetoric during the campaign from this president. We knew it was coming. If there is one thing different between the Republicans and the Democrats, it is Republicans say what they are going to do and they do it. Democrats -- it is the ever-frustrating part where you say you are going to do something and then you do something opposite. Republicans at least stick to their guns and ... do what they said they were going to do. It is unfortunate. A lot of people were hoping it was only going to be rhetoric, but it is not a surprise.

You asked earlier, "What are we going to do and how are we going to get ourselves organized?" SEIU and the rest of the labor movement -- along with churches, community organizations, even the business community ... the Chamber of Commerce is against eliminating TPS. Obviously, they weren't heard. Now it is in the hands of Congress. Congress has to act and fix DACA, fix TPS, and allow these people to continue living in the United States as they have been. A lot of these people, like I said, they own homes, some of them are business owners, they have US-born children, they have roots here.... You can't uproot people who have been here for over two decades just like that. It is just not the American thing to do. So, we are going to be lobbying Congress and demanding they fix this problem once and for all for these people who really should be US citizens by now, if they were allowed the opportunity to do that.

You mentioned that the Democrats have not done what they promised on this front. Do you think that Trump's really open attacks will help push the Democratic Party to act on this front?

Well, you know, I think the Democratic Party and the Republicans, frankly, have no choice but to act, because there is always the next election. We have elections this year in the midterm and we have elections in 2020. Somebody is going to have to pay the price because of the actions of this administration. It is unfortunate that these people who have, every 18 months for the last 20 or so years, been going to get their background checks done, their fingerprints done.... They have done everything they have been asked to do. These people should have been given the opportunity to become US citizens a long time ago.

But because we have a broken immigration system, this was not done and the only way forward is really for Congress to fix our broken immigration system once and for all. And not only fix it for DACA and TPS recipients, but really fix it for all the 11+ million people here who are undocumented, who are working every day two and three jobs to really make this country what it is, which is a country of immigrants and a country that is successful because of the work of immigrants and other communities.

Tell us a little bit about what your union has been doing in the last year. [SEIU] 32BJ, obviously, has a lot of members who are immigrants and from various places and with various kinds of statuses. Talk a little bit about what the union has done this year, fighting this administration on immigration.

We have been active locally on passing sanctuary cities in jurisdictions where we can, driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. We have been helping elect pro-immigrant/pro-worker politicians. We have been lobbying Congress. We have been creating coalitions to help counter-attack the attacks of this administration against immigrants. We are going to continue to do all of those things.

For SEIU, we have 100,000 Salvadorans or more organized in SEIU. Most people estimate that one in five Salvadorans have TPS, which means at least 20,000 of our members will be affected negatively by the actions of this administration. It is incumbent upon us [not only] as SEIU and 32BJ, but as the labor movement, to continue to pressure these politicians to do the right thing.

Is there anything that you can do in terms of job contracts, in the workplace on this front?

We are going to be informing our members throughout the union about what some of the options are. Obviously, we are encouraging all the TPS recipients to renew their TPS. They do have 18 more months after March to continue to work here legally, but they have to renew. A lot of TPS recipients are eligible for political asylum. Some of them could be petitioned by their employer. Some of them could be petitioned by their children, if they have children that are over 18. So, we are going to be finding out all the things that are available currently for this population and help get the word out and help get them connected to people who will responsibly help them get through this phase. Hopefully, a good chunk of those people will be able to adjust their status by doing some of the things.

How can people keep up with you and with the union's work?

They can always go to our website, which is www.SEIU32BJ.org or they can go to www.SEIU.org. There is a lot of awesome information on those websites about what people can do. Obviously, we can always be available via phone. Our numbers for people to call if they have questions is (202) 387-3211, and there will be more information given to the community as we find out more what this really means.

It is what we do for a living. I wouldn't have another job. Our community needs as much help as they can get, and we are going to try to give them as much help as we can give them.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

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HR Has Never Been on the Side of Workers. #MeToo Is More Proof

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00
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After human resources was informed in 2014 that Emily Nestor, former front desk assistant for the Weinstein Company, was allegedly sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein, company officials reportedly informed Nestor that any complaints would be directly reported to Weinstein himself. 

And when Helen Donahue, a former Vice employee, complained to human resources in 2015 that Jason Mojica, the head of Vice News at the time, had non-consensually groped her, she says she was told by then-human resources director Nancy Ashbrooke to "forget about it and laugh it off."

Engineer Susan Fowler says that when she complained to Uber's human resources department that a manager had propositioned her for sex, she was instructed to either move to a different job at Uber or continue working for her alleged harasser. A manager later threatened to fire Fowler for registering the complaint with human resources, she claims.

As #MeToo testimony shines new light on these industries' cultures of rampant sexual violence, the complicity of human resources is a thread running throughout several stories of predation and retaliation. While some have presented HR departments as a solution, the above experiences make clear that HR is at best a distraction from the real solution to workplace abuse: collective organizing led by, and accountable to, workers themselves. As unions and worker organizations have long recognized, workplace abuse will not be corrected by benevolent management -- it must be defeated by worker power.

Presented as neutral arbiters, human resources departments in fact report to management and function to shield bosses from repercussions. They emerged from early anti-union efforts and social-control initiatives implemented by notorious industry titans like the Ford Motor Company -- and today often house top-down efforts to undermine worker solidarity and protect companies from lawsuits. Some labor historians and organizers tell In These Times that the present climate offers an opportunity to dispense of the falsehood that human resources departments exist to protect workers.

"Human resources departments exist primarily to keep the employer from being sued," author and longtime labor organizer Jane McAlevey tells In These Times. "While they may play functional bureaucratic roles, the chief purpose of HR departments in my experience -- after a lifetime in the labor movement -- is to protect the company, not workers. Obviously they will be totally ineffective to address the sexual harassment crisis in this country."

As Weinstein and others of his ilk now fall from grace, any effective postmortem must examine human resources among the structural foundations that uphold powerful men as they perpetrate large-scale harm.

"Treating Labor as a Commodity"

According to the anti-harassment policy of the Society for Human Resource Management, human resources departments are in place to help employers "prevent, correct and discipline behavior" that qualifies as "unlawful discrimination or harassment of any kind."

Yet, the history of human resources departments tells a different story.

Elizabeth Anderson is a professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan and author of Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It). She tells In These Times that the roots of modern-day human resources can be traced to initiatives like the Ford Motor Company's "Sociological Department," established in 1914. With its introduction of a $5-per-day pay rate, deemed a boost at the time, the company established codes of conduct to ensure that workers were sufficiently orderly and worthy of this sum. The Henry Ford, an organization that oversees a museum in Dearborn, Mich., describes this program:

The Sociological Department monitored employees at home, as well as on the job. Investigators made unannounced visits to employees' homes and evaluated the cleanliness of the home, noted if the family had renters, checked with school attendance offices to determine if children were attending school and monitored bank records to verify that employees made regular deposits. Sociological Department investigators also assisted workers' families by teaching wives about home care, cooking and hygiene.

"They really said they were going to govern workers' lives," says Anderson, explaining that such efforts were often aimed at "Americanizing European immigrants."

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Australian sociologist Elton Mayo oversaw a series of experiments at Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory in Cicero, Ill. Researchers examined the impact that changes in conditions -- for example, brightening and dimming lights -- had on workers' productivity. He concluded that workers perform better when researchers show interest in them -- that the perception of attention and interest can itself boost output. The principle that attention is a key workplace motivator became the bedrock of the field of "human relations." This field influenced companies to create human resources departments to give the appearance that workers are cared for and tended to.

But Peter Rachleff, a labor historian and executive director of the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul, Minn., tells In These Times that there is a significant gap between appearance and reality. "How can you get more of this commodity for less? How can you get more labor produced by that commodity? That's the grounding of human resources," he says.

"Where Union Busters Set Up Camp"

Early human resources departments also had other aims. Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, tells In These Times that human resources departments emerged as "a more serious development with the rise of unions. Companies started to see them as a way of keeping unions out. They put in place practices that would buy out discontent."

"These departments are not set up by the government, and their job is not to protect employees," emphasizes Cappelli. "These are private organizations."

With a spate of anti-workplace-discrimination laws and orders passed in the 1960s, including the Civil Rights Act, the focus of human resources shifted to protecting companies from lawsuits. "The idea was [companies] could shield themselves, and workers could be obliged to report their complaints to the internal process," explains Anderson. "You get a huge incentive for larger corporations to set up human resources departments to shield themselves from liability."

Today, human resources departments often operate in concert with efforts to undermine unions and other forms of worker organizing. In just one example, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Tesla in August 2017 charging that the company's security guards and human resources personnel directly intimidated workers at a Fremont, Calif., factory for distributing pro-union materials -- and ultimately forced them to leave the premises. The complaint states that a human-resources official "interrogated" an employee about "the employee's Union and/or protected, concerted activities and/or the Union and/or protected, concerted activities of other employees."

As McAlevey puts it, "The human resources department is the traditional place where union busters set up camp -- the office out of which union-busting firms will run union-busting campaigns."

Of course, the absence of a human resources department is not a good in itself, and abolishing HR wouldn't fix the problem. As Aída Chávez reported January 5 for The Intercept, The New Republic, AlterNet and The Nation Institute "had no real HR when abuses occurred" (Full disclosure: This author is a prior employee of AlterNet and formerly received reporting funding from The Nation Institute's Investigative Fund.)

While noting that "such departments are no panacea," Chávez argues that "the absence of any HR department at many small news outlets creates a unique vulnerability for employees, whose fates may rest entirely in the hands of their often charismatic leaders or founders."

And indeed, the problem of retaliation and intimidation encompasses the vast majority of industries, with or without HR. A 2003 study referenced by the federal US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "found that 75 percent of US workers who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation."

Organizers have long argued that the solution to workplace harassment lies in building collective solidarity among workers -- and tilting the balance of power away from institutions that are under the control of management, including but not limited to human resources.

There is no shortage of organizing efforts lighting the way. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) highlights its worker-led Fair Food Program as a bottom-up strategy to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in the United States from a plethora of workplace atrocities, including sexual violence and slavery. The program includes a 24-hour, independent worker-complaint hotline, and worker-led political education and organizing programs. Through broad-based campaigning, CIW has forced 14 food industry giants to join their labor agreement.

From the fields to the factories, union and worker center members engage in day-to-day efforts to protect each other, by staging direct actions, organizing and enforcing contracts, and extending support and solidarity, in the many forms that takes. As McAlevey puts it, "What changes is if you have a union."

Categories: Latest News

Compromise

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00

Categories: Latest News

Iran's Protests Take Place Against a Backdrop of Inequality

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00

As 2017 came to a close, a groundswell of Iranian protesters captured international attention. The demonstrators' slogans questioned everything from the price of eggs to the legitimacy of the highest levels of government, as viewers from around the world sought to pin down the precise motivations for their displeasure. At this time, the protesters may offer more questions than answers. Reports are building conflicting narratives as to who the protesters are, what brought them into the streets, and what they hope to accomplish.

Though there may be cacophony of analyses -- many of them surely to be discredited in coming days and weeks -- some facts still remain undisputed. Primarily among them: the protests are taking place against a backdrop of economic frustration and inequality within Iran.

Economic concerns have been simmering for some time. As Iranian writer Amir Ahmadi Arian noted in the New York Times, inequality has become front and center as the wealthy display their opulence with luxury cars in city streets, while the rest of the country struggles. The economy was a focal point in the country's May 2017 elections. President Hassan Rouhani campaigned on the nuclear deal, promising it would bring more money into the country. But while Iran's economy grew -- by 13.4 percent in 2016 -- it didn't necessarily translate into prospects for Iranians. Unemployment rose to 12.6 percent that same year, a number that's even higher for Iranian youth.

The discrepancy between the promise and reality of the nuclear deal hasn't been lost on the country's residents. In May of 2015, when hopes for the agreement were high, more than half of Iranians felt the economy was at least somewhat good. But by 2017, nearly two thirds called the country's economic situation bad, one poll found. And they're not optimistic about the future -- fifty percent of people said they thought the economy was getting even worse.

Just as with the protests, analysts will point fingers in a variety of directions as to the cause of the country's economic ills. Certainly, years of crippling international sanctions have played a role. And while the nuclear deal left the door open for more economic opportunities, constant uncertainty over the future of the agreement has left banks and businesses skeptical.

But regardless of the causes, the protests signal that Iran's citizens may disagree with the government on next steps. One spark behind the recent demonstrations? President Rouhani's conservative 2018 budget, released even as minor protests took place around the country over lost jobs and missing wages.

One particular point of ire is the budget cut to the country's popular cash transfer program. As economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani notes in one analysis, the program -- which gave Iranians a small monthly stipend -- played a role in stemming poverty rates, especially in the country's rural areas, helping to bridge inequality between Tehran and the rest of the country. Salehi-Isfahani also points out that high inflation already cut the value of the transfers to less than a third of their original value. To top off that indignity, the government has decided to limit the number of people eligible for the program.

While the international community buzzes about the meaning behind the protests, at least one group is standing behind Rouhani's austerity budget. The IMF released a consultation report on Iran in December, shortly before the protests took off, in which they said revisions to the cash transfer program, among other measures, would lead to "much needed fiscal space." In a memo, Peter Bakvis, who directs the Washington, DC office of the International Trade Union Confederation, questioned this move. "It is safe to assume that no one among those participating in the recent mass protests in Iran was consulted by the IMF's mission before it endorsed the 2018/19 budget and issued recommendations for the country's economic and social policies." Though the IMF does not lend to Iran, their recommendation still carries a good deal of weight.

The question to be asked: will Iran listen to groups like the IMF or the voice of its people? The government says the demonstrations have died down. But no matter the face of Iran's protesters or the future of their movement, this much is clear: the country needs to deal with inequality, or the frustration will continue to simmer.

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Categories: Latest News

Dying From Despair, but No Help From Trump

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00

America is in the throes of a deep and pervasive social crisis -- and it's killing people at an alarming rate.

That's the takeaway from the announcement in December that, for a second year in a row, average life expectancy in the US has declined.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans can now expect to live 78.6 years on average -- a decline of 0.1 year for 2016 over the figures from 2015, which also represented a drop.

That might not sound like a lot, but any decrease in life expectancy is a rare occurrence in a developed nation. In this case, it's the direct result of the opioid crisis that continues to ravage large swathes of the country.

To put it in perspective, the last time there was a decline in life expectancy in the US was in 1993 at the height of the AIDS crisis -- and the last time there were two years of decline was 1962-63 as a result of a major flu epidemic.

Worse, 2017 is on track to produce yet another decline in life expectancy, according to the National Center for Health Statistics' Bob Anderson. "We have data for almost half of 2017 at this point. It's still quite provisional, but it suggests that we're in for another increase" in drug-related deaths, Anderson told CNN. "If we're not careful, we could end up with declining life expectancy for three years in a row, which we haven't seen since the Spanish flu 100 years ago."

Actually, seven of the top 10 leading causes of death in the US -- including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and influenza -- declined in 2016. But that was more than offset by a rise in deaths from Alzheimer's disease, suicide and "unintentional injuries" -- a category that includes drug overdose deaths.

According to the Washington Post, "More than 42,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses alone in 2016, a 28 percent increase over 2015. When deaths from drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and benzodiazepines are included, the overall increase was 21 percent."

Overall, noted the Post, "Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids more than doubled from the previous year. Heroin and prescription opioid overdose deaths also rose, but more modestly."

The picture is especially bleak among Millenials. The statistics show that from 2014 to 2016, the death rate for 25-34 year olds jumped by 19 percent, from 108 per 100,000 to 129 per 100,000.

***

The crisis is hitting particularly hard in Rust Belt areas, where a decades-long decline in manufacturing has decimated formerly solid working-class communities, leaving Virginia, New Hampshire and Ohio with highest rates of overdose deaths in the country. Morgues in many of the hardest-hit counties continue to run short on space to hold the bodies of the dead. From mid-2016 to mid-2017 in West Virginia, the state spent $1 million just to transport bodies to and from morgues.

In the town of Petersburg (population: 2,500) one pharmacy allegedly sold more than 1.8 million doses of opioids that had no medical purpose.

"It was like passing out candy on Halloween," Breanne McUlty, a recovering addict from Petersburg, told the Washington Examiner. "I can't say there isn't one person I know who hasn't been strung out...I'm the only person in my family right now who hasn't had an active addiction."

It's important to note, however, that it isn't only white Rust Belt communities that are suffering. Taking a closer look at the 2016 figures, the New York Times reported in late December that deaths related to opioids spiked by a whopping 41 percent in Black urban communities, especially among older Black men who are dying from heroin laced with fentanyl.

This, the Times wrote, "suggests that the common perception of the epidemic as an almost entirely white problem rooted in overprescription of painkillers is no longer accurate, as fentanyl, often stealthily, invades broader swaths of the country and its population."

In Washington, DC, for example, drug deaths doubled in a single year -- and are now "on par with those in Ohio and New Hampshire."

***

There is an urgent need for a drastic response from the government including addiction and treatment services, jobs programs, medication and other resources.

For months, public health officials have been begging the Trump administration to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, which could have made a large amount of funding available. Instead, in October, Trump declared it a "public health emergency" and devoted few additional resources.

As if to underline the administration's lack of seriousness in approaching the opioid crisis, Trump appointed not an expert or a scientist, but his former campaign manager and current White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway to lead White House efforts to combat the crisis.

Conway, who has zero experience with anything related to addiction or addiction policy, once told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that the White House failed to increase funding for the opioid crisis because what addicts really need is "a four-letter word called 'will.'"

Such comments, said Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, are a "death sentence for addicts."

Hoping to score cheap political points, Trump announced in late November that he would be donating his $100,000 third-quarter presidential salary to the Department of Health and Human Services. But the paltry amount will do next to nothing to stem the crisis -- especially when his administration is cutting funding in other ways.

After all, $100,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the $190 billion over 10 years that public health advocates like Harvard University health economics professor Dr. Richard Frank say will be needed to help stem the crisis. And given that Medicaid currently covers some 34 percent of the estimated 2.66 million Americans with an opiate-use disorder, the crisis will deepen if Republican plans to further gut government health-care programs come to fruition.

In fact, as the Huffington Post reported in late October, Trump's budget calls for cutting funding for the opioid crisis by $97 million -- including a massive cut to the budget of the National Institutes of Health:

The president could have tied other actions to his public health emergency declaration but did not, said Regina LaBelle, former chief of staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Obama administration.

"Such actions could have included building a naloxone stockpile, addressing regulatory barriers to mobile methadone vans, not to mention including more funding to address the epidemic," LaBelle said in a statement. "At a time when only 20 percent of people with opioid use disorders get needed treatment, we need to act with urgency."

Instead of "urgency," America was treated to Trump lecturing the media about "an idea that I had" for kids to say no drugs -- a nod to the totally ineffective "just say no" campaign of the 1980s, which never showed a direct connection to reducing drug use.

"If we can teach young people -- and people, generally -- not to start," Trump said. "it's really, really easy not to take them."

Truly, words of wisdom from a "stable genius."

***

The decline in US life expectancy is a kind of "canary in a coal mine" -- a troubling indication of the degree to which whole sections of US workers are in living in despair under a system that is designed not to meet their needs.

Princeton University economist Anne Case recently told NPR that opioid deaths, along with the uptick in suicides and deaths from alcohol, are all "signs that something is really wrong, and whatever it is that's really wrong is happening nationwide."

But while much of the media attention has focused on the spike in opioid addiction among whites, researchers are pointing out that working class and poor Blacks -- who already suffer higher rates of disease and mortality as a result of preventable causes often related to poverty and institutional racism -- are also suffering.

"Rates of mortality for African Americans have risen after a fairly long period of decline, and that is concerning and disturbing and it may reflect a wider array of harms arising from drug issues," Jonathan Skinner, a Dartmouth College economic professor, told NPR.

In general, there has been a systematic failure of the government at the local, state and federal levels in all communities to provide the resources that people deserve.

While the Trump administration is spending its time policing scientists at the Centers for Disease Control over their use of words and phrases like "evidence-based" and "vunerable," millions of Americans are needlessly suffering and communities are being ripped apart by a crisis with no end in sight -- and no solutions on offer.

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Categories: Latest News

HR Has Never Been on the Side of Workers. #MeToo Is More Proof

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00
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After human resources was informed in 2014 that Emily Nestor, former front desk assistant for the Weinstein Company, was allegedly sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein, company officials reportedly informed Nestor that any complaints would be directly reported to Weinstein himself. 

And when Helen Donahue, a former Vice employee, complained to human resources in 2015 that Jason Mojica, the head of Vice News at the time, had non-consensually groped her, she says she was told by then-human resources director Nancy Ashbrooke to "forget about it and laugh it off."

Engineer Susan Fowler says that when she complained to Uber's human resources department that a manager had propositioned her for sex, she was instructed to either move to a different job at Uber or continue working for her alleged harasser. A manager later threatened to fire Fowler for registering the complaint with human resources, she claims.

As #MeToo testimony shines new light on these industries' cultures of rampant sexual violence, the complicity of human resources is a thread running throughout several stories of predation and retaliation. While some have presented HR departments as a solution, the above experiences make clear that HR is at best a distraction from the real solution to workplace abuse: collective organizing led by, and accountable to, workers themselves. As unions and worker organizations have long recognized, workplace abuse will not be corrected by benevolent management -- it must be defeated by worker power.

Presented as neutral arbiters, human resources departments in fact report to management and function to shield bosses from repercussions. They emerged from early anti-union efforts and social-control initiatives implemented by notorious industry titans like the Ford Motor Company -- and today often house top-down efforts to undermine worker solidarity and protect companies from lawsuits. Some labor historians and organizers tell In These Times that the present climate offers an opportunity to dispense of the falsehood that human resources departments exist to protect workers.

"Human resources departments exist primarily to keep the employer from being sued," author and longtime labor organizer Jane McAlevey tells In These Times. "While they may play functional bureaucratic roles, the chief purpose of HR departments in my experience -- after a lifetime in the labor movement -- is to protect the company, not workers. Obviously they will be totally ineffective to address the sexual harassment crisis in this country."

As Weinstein and others of his ilk now fall from grace, any effective postmortem must examine human resources among the structural foundations that uphold powerful men as they perpetrate large-scale harm.

"Treating Labor as a Commodity"

According to the anti-harassment policy of the Society for Human Resource Management, human resources departments are in place to help employers "prevent, correct and discipline behavior" that qualifies as "unlawful discrimination or harassment of any kind."

Yet, the history of human resources departments tells a different story.

Elizabeth Anderson is a professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan and author of Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It). She tells In These Times that the roots of modern-day human resources can be traced to initiatives like the Ford Motor Company's "Sociological Department," established in 1914. With its introduction of a $5-per-day pay rate, deemed a boost at the time, the company established codes of conduct to ensure that workers were sufficiently orderly and worthy of this sum. The Henry Ford, an organization that oversees a museum in Dearborn, Mich., describes this program:

The Sociological Department monitored employees at home, as well as on the job. Investigators made unannounced visits to employees' homes and evaluated the cleanliness of the home, noted if the family had renters, checked with school attendance offices to determine if children were attending school and monitored bank records to verify that employees made regular deposits. Sociological Department investigators also assisted workers' families by teaching wives about home care, cooking and hygiene.

"They really said they were going to govern workers' lives," says Anderson, explaining that such efforts were often aimed at "Americanizing European immigrants."

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Australian sociologist Elton Mayo oversaw a series of experiments at Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory in Cicero, Ill. Researchers examined the impact that changes in conditions -- for example, brightening and dimming lights -- had on workers' productivity. He concluded that workers perform better when researchers show interest in them -- that the perception of attention and interest can itself boost output. The principle that attention is a key workplace motivator became the bedrock of the field of "human relations." This field influenced companies to create human resources departments to give the appearance that workers are cared for and tended to.

But Peter Rachleff, a labor historian and executive director of the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul, Minn., tells In These Times that there is a significant gap between appearance and reality. "How can you get more of this commodity for less? How can you get more labor produced by that commodity? That's the grounding of human resources," he says.

"Where Union Busters Set Up Camp"

Early human resources departments also had other aims. Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, tells In These Times that human resources departments emerged as "a more serious development with the rise of unions. Companies started to see them as a way of keeping unions out. They put in place practices that would buy out discontent."

"These departments are not set up by the government, and their job is not to protect employees," emphasizes Cappelli. "These are private organizations."

With a spate of anti-workplace-discrimination laws and orders passed in the 1960s, including the Civil Rights Act, the focus of human resources shifted to protecting companies from lawsuits. "The idea was [companies] could shield themselves, and workers could be obliged to report their complaints to the internal process," explains Anderson. "You get a huge incentive for larger corporations to set up human resources departments to shield themselves from liability."

Today, human resources departments often operate in concert with efforts to undermine unions and other forms of worker organizing. In just one example, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Tesla in August 2017 charging that the company's security guards and human resources personnel directly intimidated workers at a Fremont, Calif., factory for distributing pro-union materials -- and ultimately forced them to leave the premises. The complaint states that a human-resources official "interrogated" an employee about "the employee's Union and/or protected, concerted activities and/or the Union and/or protected, concerted activities of other employees."

As McAlevey puts it, "The human resources department is the traditional place where union busters set up camp -- the office out of which union-busting firms will run union-busting campaigns."

Of course, the absence of a human resources department is not a good in itself, and abolishing HR wouldn't fix the problem. As Aída Chávez reported January 5 for The Intercept, The New Republic, AlterNet and The Nation Institute "had no real HR when abuses occurred" (Full disclosure: This author is a prior employee of AlterNet and formerly received reporting funding from The Nation Institute's Investigative Fund.)

While noting that "such departments are no panacea," Chávez argues that "the absence of any HR department at many small news outlets creates a unique vulnerability for employees, whose fates may rest entirely in the hands of their often charismatic leaders or founders."

And indeed, the problem of retaliation and intimidation encompasses the vast majority of industries, with or without HR. A 2003 study referenced by the federal US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "found that 75 percent of US workers who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation."

Organizers have long argued that the solution to workplace harassment lies in building collective solidarity among workers -- and tilting the balance of power away from institutions that are under the control of management, including but not limited to human resources.

There is no shortage of organizing efforts lighting the way. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) highlights its worker-led Fair Food Program as a bottom-up strategy to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in the United States from a plethora of workplace atrocities, including sexual violence and slavery. The program includes a 24-hour, independent worker-complaint hotline, and worker-led political education and organizing programs. Through broad-based campaigning, CIW has forced 14 food industry giants to join their labor agreement.

From the fields to the factories, union and worker center members engage in day-to-day efforts to protect each other, by staging direct actions, organizing and enforcing contracts, and extending support and solidarity, in the many forms that takes. As McAlevey puts it, "What changes is if you have a union."

Categories: Latest News

Concerned Citizens in Cancer Alley Vow to Ramp Up Battle Against Industrial Pollution in 2018

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00

This past year in Louisiana's St. John the Baptist Parish, a small group of residents began organizing their community to compel the state to protect them against an invisible menace: the air they breathe. In 2018, the burgeoning group plans to get political and broaden its reach by banding together with similar groups in the region.

Robert Taylor next to one of the EPA air monitoring sites in LaPlace, Louisiana. (All Photos: Julie Dermansky)

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This past year in Louisiana's St. John the Baptist Parish, a small group of residents began organizing their community to compel the state to protect them against an invisible menace: the air they breathe. Their parish, the Louisiana equivalent of a county, is situated in what's known as Cancer Alley, an industrial corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that hosts more than 100 petrochemical factories.

At the helm of the battle is the Concerned Citizens of St. John, a diverse group of parish residents pushing back against the area's historically bad -- and worsening -- industrial pollution. "One thing we all have in common is a desire for clean air," the group's founder, Robert Taylor, told me. Over the next year, the burgeoning group plans to get political and broaden its reach by banding together with similar groups in the region.

Taylor, a 76-year-old retired general contractor, recently spoke to me about the group from California, where he spent Christmas with his wife, who is recuperating from a stroke. Their extended family insisted Taylor keep his wife away from the Louisiana parish's polluted air.

Robert Taylor at a Concerned Citizens of St. John meeting at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel in Reserve, Louisiana, on June 27.

Lydia Gerard, a member of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, holding up a new sign at their public meeting on August 15.

Coming Together for Cleaner Air

Taylor formed the Concerned Citizens of St. John after he and others learned that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined residents in their area were at higher risk of cancer than anywhere else in the country. The EPA's latest National Air Toxics Assessment, which evaluates air contaminants and estimates health risks, revealed that residents in six parish census tracts closest to the Denka Performance Elastomer factory in LaPlace have a lifetime risk of cancer from air pollution 800 times higher than the national average.

Denka Performance Elastomer factory in LaPlace, Louisiana.

Denka's LaPlace factory, formerly owned by DuPont, emits chloroprene and 28 other chemicals used to make the synthetic rubber commonly known as Neoprene. In 2010 the EPA reclassified chloroprene as a likely human carcinogen, but this fact only came to the community's attention at the end of 2016. 

The Concerned Citizens of St. John group holds bi-weekly public meetings at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel in the town of Reserve. At meetings throughout 2017, Wilma Subra, a technical advisor to the environmental advocacy group Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), reviewed the results of EPA air monitoring from six sites in the parish, which she will continue this year.

Wilma Subra, LEAN’s technical advisor, at a meeting of the Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish in Reserve, Louisiana, on June 27, 2017.

After the EPA's concerns became public, Denka agreed to cut harmful emissions by up to 85 percent. Yet a year after air monitoring began, pollution levels were actually worse at five of the six sites. And that was despite the plant making costly improvements due to an agreement with regulators, according to CNN. On December 19, at the group's last meeting of 2017, Subra went over the latest EPA data: Chloroprene emissions are, at times, still well above EPA-recommended standards.

As I documented Concerned Citizens throughout 2017 for DeSmog, I watched it grow into an advocacy force to be reckoned with -- a unity and power they acknowledged at a Christmas celebration following their last meeting.

"The group had some growing pains over the course of the year, but we are now stronger than ever," Taylor told me. "Our group can't be influenced by anyone, which makes us dangerous."

Pastor Lionel Murphy Jr. at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel in Reserve. Pastor Murphy made the church available as a meeting place for the Concerned Citizens of St. John. The church has been broken in to three times since the meetings began.

Robert Taylor, playing organ at a service held at the Tchoupitoulas Chapel in Reserve, where the Concerned Citizens of St. John holds most of its meetings.

Shondrell Perrilloux holding a sign up as she takes the podium at a parish council meeting.

All Politics Is Local

In 2018 Concerned Citizens plans to find and back candidates to run for local offices in order to replace the politicians who brushed off their concerns in 2017. "Block by block, precinct by precinct, we are planning to choose candidates who will represent our interests over the industry's," Taylor said.

Geraldine Watkins (center), shown here at the November 29, 2017 parish council meeting, lives in LaPlace, less than a half mile from Denka's plant.

Denka Performance Elastomer factory in LaPlace is close to the 5th Ward Elementary School and residents' homes in Reserve and LaPlace, Louisiana. Flight made possible by SouthWings.

Geraldine Watkins, a 76-year-old great grandmother and member of Concerned Citizens, is considering running for office herself. Protecting the children who are forced to breathe the parish's toxic air has become her life's mission. 

She has no intention of giving up the fight for clean air until Denka adheres to the EPA's recommended emission standard of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter, a figure printed on the red t-shirts the group wears.

Members of Concerned Citizens of St. John at a parish council meeting in LaPlace, Louisiana, on March 28 wearing red t-shirts printed with "Only 0.2 will do," emphasizing their point that chloroprene emissions should not exceed the EPA's recommendation.

The EPA emissions limits are determined with the goal of keeping the cancer risk from air pollution to less than one in every million people. When that goal is not achievable, the agency sets standards based on the "upper limit of acceptability," which is a risk of 100 in a million people. That figure is the basis for the EPA's 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter standard in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) Secretary Dr. Chuck Brown before addressing the parish council on November 14.

Members of the Concerned Citizens of St. John pack the November 14 parish council meeting the night LDEQ Secretary Dr. Chuck Brown updated the council, but the group members were not given a chance to ask him questions.

Louisiana's state health officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry at the November 14, 2017 parish council meeting, saying there is no health emergency in the parish. At a December 2016 council meeting, however, he acknowledged that "no one should have to breathe chloroprene."

Denka and Dr. Chuck Brown, the state's top environmental regulator, have challenged the EPA's findings. Watkins and the other members of Concerned Citizens say they have no reason to believe the EPA got it wrong. 

Though the EPA declined to comment when I asked if there were any problems with its findings on chloroprene, citing it as an open case, CNN reported that an EPA spokesperson said the science behind the agency's findings was solid.

"We appreciate that the EPA warned us about the chloroprene," Watkins told me, but it is clear to her that she and other parish residents "are mere guinea pigs in the scheme of things. The lack of action by the government since the EPA's findings were released makes it complicit in allowing Denka and DuPont to poison us."

In the new year, in addition to entering local politics, the Concerned Citizens of St. John also plan to form an alliance with other citizens groups in Cancer Alley which are also standing up to pollution. 

"I'm not just fighting for myself. I'm fighting for everyone in the parish, especially the children," Watkins said.

The Handys, residents of LaPlace who live across from Denka's plant. George Handy, a member of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, purchased the house before learning about the local chloroprene emissions.

Councilmember Larry Sorapuru, the only councilmember in St. John the Baptist Parish who the concerned citizen group feels is standing up for them, speaking at a town hall meeting on pollution in LaPlace on November 26.

Mary Hampton, a member of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, listening to the results of the latest air monitoring test at a group meeting on December 18.

Categories: Latest News

Free the People: The New Year's Victory You Didn't Hear About

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:00

(Photo: Baona / Getty Images)

By all counts, 2017 was a bleak year, but a New Year's Eve twitter campaign started by prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba has given new impetus to efforts to end money bond within the US criminal legal system. #FreeThePeople Day raised $234,000 for 14 community bail funds to help the nearly half a million people being held in jail solely for lacking bail money.

(Photo: Baona / Getty Images)

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We squared off with authoritarianism, and we exhausted ourselves. That was the story of 2017. We fought, but things got dark, and we got tired. Then, in December, Republicans in Congress united around an idea that we lacked the power to stop -- the Republican tax scam. It was an ugly way to round out a year of struggle and loss, but it's worth noting that on the last day of 2017, something amazing happened.

At the year's end, organizer and prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba was as tired as anyone. But she had an idea. "I fired off a tweet suggesting that I was renaming New Year's Eve, #FreeThePeople Day and half-jokingly said that everyone should donate the cost of one drink to a community bail fund," she told me.

Bail funds are mostly grassroots projects that post bail for prisoners who are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford to post bail for themselves. Once the defendant's case is adjudicated, the bail (minus any court fees) is generally returned to the revolving fund so that it can be used to post bond for other prisoners.

Approximately 11 million people cycle through US jails each year. At any given time, almost 450,000 people are being held pretrial in local jails, and most of those are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford to post bond. Those who are held on money bond in pretrial incarceration have not been found guilty of a crime, and in fact have been cleared for release: If they had money, they could go home. They are, in effect, in jail for being poor.

When Kaba suggested the idea of #FreeThePeople Day, a few of her Twitter followers responded enthusiastically, so she set about creating a blog post listing some of the bail funds and efforts that she was aware of, and invited others to join the fundraiser on Twitter on New Year's Eve. 

Kaba's whimsical idea created an opportunity to rally some assistance for the grassroots organizations doing bail work. "Quite honestly, I had no idea whether anyone would participate," says Kaba, "but I committed to spending the next day fundraising for the community bail funds."

In love with the idea, I made the same commitment, and by morning, we had a stash of information and resources for people to share.

"With some help from friends," Kaba says, "I spent New Year's Eve sharing facts and other information about the unfairness of pretrial detention and bail, asking people to share their favorite freedom songs, and uplifting donation tweets."

Hundreds of people joined the effort, and tweets using the hashtag #FreeThePeople reached over 2 million users. Out of the fourteen bail funds on the list, three of them -- Massachusetts Bail Fund, National Bail Out and Brooklyn Community Bail Fund -- had matching grants in effect.

"By the end of New Year's Eve, we had raised $234,000 (excluding matching funds) for at least 14 community bail funds and efforts," says Kaba. "It was astounding and also inspiring."

Almost a quarter of a million dollars were raised for bail funds in just one day. How did this happen? To answer that, we have to look at the momentum of the movement to end money bond and pretrial incarceration.

A Growing Movement

"The enormous success of #FreeThePeople is a reflection of a growing awareness of the injustice of money bail and pretrial incarceration," says Sharlyn Grace, an attorney and co-founder of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which raised $35,000 during the #FreeThePeople campaign on New Year's Eve. "Revolving bail funds around the country have also shown over and over again that money bail doesn't work, but that supporting our neighbors to get free does."

In Chicago, where Grace works and organizes, the fight against money bail has seen some major victories. In July 2017, in response to a lawsuit, a judge issued a new local rule requiring that all money bails in Cook County be affordable. According to Grace, "The rule states that it is 'intended to ensure no defendant is held in custody prior to trial solely because the defendant cannot afford to post bail,' and there are 1,500 fewer people in Cook County Jail now than when the order went into effect in September!"

Not all judges have complied with the Chicago rule, and thousands of pretrial prisoners remain in Cook County Jail whose bails were set prior to the July ruling. But Grace says that she and her co-organizers will continue following up to track compliance and support as many people as possible.

Since May, the National Bail Out collective has posted bond for over 200 people, providing some with short-term housing, healthcare, transportation, drug treatment and mental health services. "In the tradition of our enslaved Black ancestors, who used their collective resources to purchase each other's freedom before slavery was abolished, until we abolish bail and mass incarceration, we will free ourselves," the group pledges on its website.

Southerners on New Ground (SONG) bailed out over 60 Black mothers and caregivers across the South for Mother's Day.

Still, criminalization carries a heavy stigma, and the work has not come easy. The Massachusetts Bail Fund almost shut down in August, due to a lack of funds. But the movement rallied on social media, and donations rolled in. "A lot of nasty things are said on Twitter," says Atara Rich-Shea, the director of operations for the Massachusetts Bail Fund, "but in this instance, Twitter literally saved our bail fund. We raised $50,000 in a week through Twitter support." 

Several months later, the Massachusetts Bail Fund also benefited from #FreeThePeople, bringing in $26,060 in donations from 208 people in one day. "It was overwhelming to check our Twitter mentions and our email and see the donations come in.... We are such a small bail fund -- all volunteers, and the bails we pay are relatively low; $500 or less plus a $40 fee for each bail," Rich-Shea explains. "$26,000 frees nearly 50 people."

Bail funds have played an important role in supporting people who've been criminalized for defending their own lives and bodies. The pretrial release of Naomi Freeman in Chicago was secured through a collaboration between the Chicago Community Bond Fund and other social justice groups in Chicago -- a process that ranged from grant-writing to direct action. Organizer Holly Krig, of Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, believes that a commitment to post bond for abuse survivor Paris Knox helped expedite a plea deal that Knox was offered last week. "Paris will now be home in a matter of weeks, though she faced the possibility of 27 more years inside."

Krig notes that, like all defendants, survivors stand a better chance in court if they are released pretrial. "The longer the duration of pretrial incarceration," says Krig, "the greater the chances of a conviction with a longer sentence. We not only compound harm to survivors by incarcerating them, but the state further punishes survivors who've survived longer durations of that incarceration."

Krig, like Rich-Shea, Grace and Kaba, believes that the abolition of money bail, and ultimately, an end to pretrial incarceration, are the larger goals of the movement. With philanthropic billionaires having taken an interest in the idea of bond funds, there is a danger that people will begin to see bond funds as a matter of charity, rather than change. But groups like the Chicago Community Bond Fund have strived to set a different standard, taking on advocacy that tackles the root issue: the very existence of a system that cages people for being poor. And as Rich-Shea reminds us, "Posting bail, freeing the people, is essential work, not just because it's critical harm reduction, but because the lessons we learn, the coalitions we built, and the people who are free, all inform and support the work towards the larger goal of ending pretrial supervision once and for all."

Mariame Kaba also sees these efforts as part of an abolitionist movement praxis. "The funds that received these donations aren't bailing people out for charity, but because they are also working to end money bond altogether," Kaba says. "We engaged thousands of people through this effort: many donated but many more are now more educated about the unfairness of bail and pretrial detention."

Bails and circumstances vary from city to city, but with $234,000 spread across 14 bail funds, #FreeThePeople will be emptying a lot of cages in 2018. 

Categories: Latest News

Digging In: Land Rights, Food Sovereignty and a Food Truck in Detroit

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 07:22

Meiko Krishok, a young entrepreneur running a popular eatery in Detroit is navigating the challenges of doing business and serving healthy food in a city experiencing population decline, land misappropriation and infrastructure failure. Luckily, Krishok's business ethics and enduring patience offer a glimmer of hope to young, local up-and-comers. So does her food.

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The specter of decades of population decline -- empty fields where neighborhoods used to thrive persist – is an internationally recognizable symbol of Detroit, Michigan. Emptiness also serves as a key talking point, central to positioning the city as a clean slate -- sheer potential for entrepreneurs and investors from elsewhere, available to any of the highest bidders. But empty fields are not always what they appear. In fact, in Detroit, they often come with a nearly impenetrable complex of restrictions, rules and regulations that result in committed, invested locals being unable to access land that entrepreneurs and investors seem to come by so easily.

"Digging In" is part of our investigative comics journalism series on barriers to water, housing and land access in southeastern Michigan and the first installment in our graphic miniseries on land. We talk to caterer Meiko Krishok, whose popular North Corktown eatery navigates a wide array of concerns facing many young entrepreneurs in this city, as well as the other cities across the nation experiencing population decline, land misappropriation and infrastructure failure. Luckily, Krishok's business ethics and enduring patience offer a glimmer of hope to young, local up-and-comers. So does her food. But while we can introduce you to Krishok and show you around on a warm summer day, one thing comics can't do is tell you how good the food is. For that, you'll have to come visit.

For an introduction to some of the issues facing growers in Detroit, the creators of this strip are grateful to the researcher Rachael Baker, whose work on urban agriculture and land access offered an excellent introduction to some of the concerns laid out in this strip.

ENDNOTES:

  1. The Pink Flamingo menu is posted to its Facebook page. Accessed January 9, 2018: https://www.facebook.com/pinkflamingodetroit/
  2. Personal interview with Meiko Krishok, conducted on December 6, 2017.
  3. Loveland Technologies, http://makeloveland.com.
  4. "Testing Garden Soil," Keep Growing Detroit, April 19, 2017.
  5. "Digging Deep: Detroiters work to clean up city's toxic soil." Nina Ignaczak, Model D Media, December 12, 2016. Accessed January 9, 2018: http://www.modeldmedia.com/features/digging-deep-soil-121216.aspx
Categories: Latest News

Net Neutrality Bill Gains Enough Support to Force Floor Vote, but 17 Senate Democrats Still Uncommitted

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 07:01

Demonstrators rally outside the Federal Communication Commission building to protest against the end of net neutrality rules, December 14, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Open internet defenders in the Senate reached an "important milestone" on Monday when Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced she will co-sponsor legislation that, if passed, would overturn FCC chair Ajit Pai's "corrupt and illegitimate" order to kill net neutrality.

McCaskill's support gives the Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) the 30 votes necessary to force a vote on the Senate floor. The CRA gives Congress the power to pass a "resolution of disapproval" to nullify new regulations within a 60-day window.

Passage of a CRA would "repeal Pai's repeal," explains Dana Floberg of Free Press, which would leave the web "right back where [it] started -- with strong net neutrality rules."

McCaskill's announcement -- which was shortly followed by Sen. Cory Booker's (D-N.J.) own declaration of support for Markey's bill -- was applauded by internet freedom advocates, who concluded that every other lawmaker should get on board or face serious electoral consequences.

"Internet users are angry, educated, and organized. We refuse to back down. Net neutrality is too important to the future of our democracy," Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement on Monday. "Today's news shows that lawmakers from both parties cannot hide from their constituents on this issue. Every member of the US Senate will have to go on the record, during a tight election year, and either vote to save the Internet or rubber stamp its death warrant."

As Common Dreams reported last week, more than a dozen Democratic senators have thus far failed to go on the record.

With McCaskill and Booker co-sponsoring Markey's resolution, that leaves 17 Senate Democrats -- along with Angus King (I-Maine) -- who have yet to make a commitment to defend net neutrality (see list below).

In a statement following McCaskill's announcement, Matt Wood, policy director of the Free Press Action Fund, urged Senate holdouts to listen closely to the Americans who have "logged more than a million calls to Congress to reject FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's decision to kill net neutrality."

"Supporting net neutrality should be a no-brainer for members of Congress, whose constituents from across the political spectrum are united in their opposition to the Trump FCC's attack on the open internet," Wood added. "More and more lawmakers are recognizing this truth, helped along by the forceful outcry from the people they represent."

If every Democrat signs on, Markey's legislation will still need the support of two Republicans in the Senate and around 20 Republicans in the House to pass.

In addition to Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), what follows is an updated list of the Democratic senators who have yet to support Markey's bill:

Tom Carper (D-Del.)
Bob Casey (D-Pa.)
Chris Coons (D-Del.)
Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.)
Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)
Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)
Doug Jones (D-Ala.)
Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)
Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)
Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)
Tina Smith (D-Minn.)
Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
Tom Udall (D-N.M.)
Mark Warner (D-Va.)

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